Anchorage middle schools may get resource officers
Some members of the Anchorage Assembly and School Board are hoping to expand a police presence from the muni's high schools to its middle schools as well.
At its June 4 meeting, the Anchorage School Board unanimously adopted member Dave Donley's resolution, asking the muni to assign additional school resource officers to the Anchorage School District's middle schools.
"The SROs are currently only in our high schools," Donley said. "They do other things around the community also, whether that's emergencies or other priorities. They really build a relationship with the students in the schools. It's been very successful in promoting neighborhood and school security, but also city-wide security."
Just one ASD middle school has a school resource officer. The Anchorage Assembly met with the Anchorage School Board Friday to discuss the resolution amid Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's efforts to gradually expand the muni's ranks of sworn officers.
"Middle school makes sense," said Assembly member Dick Traini. "How do you recover from dead kids? Middle schools are a target, they are a problem. It's taken us a long time to build up our police force; we're now there."
"We're getting hundreds of new police officers," Donley said. "Why can't our schools get just 10 percent of those numbers. Nine or 10 out of every 100 officers. Some may want to work in the schools; (it) may fit their family schedules better -- work five eight-hour shifts rather than four 10s."
The use of more resource officers could be a deterrent for violence among students. However, one of the biggest concerns is how fast an SRO could react to a situation on the other side of a campus.
"You can have an SRO in every school," Assembly member John Weddleton said. "They could be in that corner of the school and the shooter comes in a door in another corner of the school and is able to kill a large number of kids before the SRO even has a clue to what's going on, no matter how many cameras or how many keyless locks you have."
Weddleton went on to argue for the value of staff who can de-escalate situations before they need to be resolved by APD.
"You need to have someone trained to know what to look for and how to handle it," Weddleton said. "If you have a social worker, someone trained to do this who is not a police officer, that knows these kids and spends time with them, they are counselors -- and a lot of them have been cut. These people are trained to know who to watch, rather than having an officer arrive from across town."
"Seconds matter in school danger situations; seconds save lives," Donley said. "They save student lives, they prevent casualties; every 10 seconds could be another casualty. So having an SRO on the other side of school is vastly preferable to an SRO on the other side of town."
"I think it is very beneficial to have SRO's in our schools," School Board member Alisha Hilde said. "Even if it's just a deterrent."
One question that came up at the meeting was whether middle and high schools could operate with only one entrance for security, like the district's kindergartens.
According to Joe Schmidt, ASD's senior director of security, the question is "more complicated than it looks on the surface."
"High schools are far different than elementary schools because the students there are more capable of making decisions, more so than elementary kids," Schmidt said. "When you have 2,000 students say at East, that's a lot of students coming and going throughout the day. So, to say one point of entry, it's easy to say and does make sense and would make the school more secure. However, operational it's got to work day to day. We don't have a violent event happening everyday but we do have students coming and going everyday, and that's wear and tear of the equipment."
Donley says he's been trying to get more on APD's current numbers and rate of expansion from the police department.
"It'd be a shame for something to happen," Donley said. "Because we are only talking about it rather than doing something about it."
Assembly members say they'd like to have APD Chief Justin Doll at the next Assembly meeting to talk about the force's numbers. SROs also seems to be quite popular with seasoned officers according to Assembly member Amy Demboski.
"I think we need specifically a report from the city manager and police chief," Demboski said.
"We have to explore every avenue of safety," Hilde said. "This is one area where we have an increase of officers in the municipality, and we can be responsive to what parents are experiencing and what kids are feeling in our districts."
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